Perhaps we’re biased, but there’s a unique beauty to drawing pencils that isn’t matched by your everyday writing pencil. Usually painted in a pleasing color and embossed with their name and grade, they cut a striking figure in one’s art box. Of course, you can’t judge a drawing pencil (solely) by its beauty. They come in a variety of grades: B pencils have more graphite in them, so they make dark and soft marks, while H pencils have more clay in them, which provides harder and more precise lines. A good drawing set will include a range of grades that transition smoothly from one into the next. Ahead, find top-notch options to get your sketching and drafting off to a good start.
1. Faber-Castell Graphite Sketch Wood Pencil Set
The Castell 9000 pencil has a cult following and a long history: It was purportedly launched by Count Alexander von Faber-Castell himself back in 1905. Loved for all the right reasons—smooth lead, even transitions, consistent wood casing—the pencils are staples in many studios. The harder pencils avoid being scratchy thanks to the finely ground graphite and clay, and even the softer ones hold a point for a long time. This set of a dozen pencils comes in a handsome green tin, with grades 8B to 2H. And if some pencils in your set wear down more quickly than others, you can purchase the 9000 pencil in any hardness individually.
2. Staedtler Mars Lumograph Pencils
The casual sketcher perhaps doesn’t need the extended range of values that Staedtler provides, all the way from a very soft 12B to a very hard 10H, but the serious artist will appreciate that Staedtler has softer and harder pencils than most other high-quality lines. These pencils are sturdy, consistent, and smooth, and the hexagonal barrel prevents them from rolling off tables.
3. Prismacolor Premier Turquoise Graphite Sketching Pencils
This line of pencils from Prismacolor is known for its smooth mark-making and ease of erasing. They show up very well on vellum, which makes them a favorite for drafting and design work. The graphite, which leaves a subtly glossy line, also won’t show up once you mark over it. We’re also fans of the strong core, which doesn’t crumble and is a breeze to sharpen. This set comes with 12 pencils in grades 4B to 6H to carry you through your sketches from start to end.
4. General’s Kimberly Graphite Pencil Kit
For a durable, reliable set, this USA-made option should not be overlooked. The pencils feature a dense Ceylon graphite core and a treated cedar casing to withstand a good deal of pressure—perfect for those just getting started on their journey with graphite. The softer pencils are dark and strong, and all of them resist the shininess that some graphite pencils can have. Plus, marks are easy to erase. This set comes with pencils in grades 8B to 4H, a sharpener, and latex-free eraser.
5. Koh-I-Noor Progresso Woodless Graphite Pencil Set
Woodless pencils are just a lead core—usually thicker than the one in your standard pencil—coated in a protective lacquer. They offer a number of advantages over wooden pencils—you get more product so your pencils last a long time, and since more lead is exposed, these are excellent tools for shading. They are also said to be better for the environment, as they save trees. Still, they have one significant disadvantage when compared with wooden pencils: Since they lack a shock-absorbing casing, they are much more fragile. In other words, these pencils may not be ideal for your travel bag. For keeping in the studio, Koh-I-Noor’s Progresso pencils are our favorites as they use high-density graphite that applies silkily to the page and lay down pigment without scratching. This set comes with 12 pencils, with two each of HB, 2B, 4B, 6B, 8B, and 9B.